Designing a nanotechnology major

PingS writes "I am going to be a sophomore in electrical engineering this upcoming year. I have been tracking nanotechnology for the past four months, and read through multiple literatures on the Foresight website including Engines of Creation and the Unbounding Future. I have also read the recent publication Recent Advances and Issues in Molecular Nanotechnology. I am currently working on Nanosystems, but it is 'very technical' for a sophomore, so I am progressing 'very slowly'. I want to let you guys know that I have done a lot of background research into nanotechnology and am familiar with most of the current issues and debates (Smalley, Whitesides).

More…. I am designing my own nanotechnology curriculum. It appears to me that the original Drexlerian vision is that nanotechnology should be an engineering feat supported by prolonged, coordinated scientific efforts. However, so far, most of the suggestions for an undergraduate nanotechnology education have been for a triple natural sciences major: physics/chemistry/biology. Makes it a little hard for an engineering major to graduate from undergraduate.

Therefore, I have multiple questions regarding the importance of the studies mentioned in the various discussions. Most of them are presented in comparative terms.

I. Mathematics
Vector Calculus
Diff eq and linear algebra
– these mathematics should be the bare minimal for physics.

II. Sciences
Physics > biochemistry > chemistry > molecular biology > biology
– It appears that physics is central to nano, and is fundamental to the understanding of chemistry. Molecular biology is helpful to take advantage of evolution's engineering accomplishments. Chemistry is involved to make mechanosynthesis work.

III. Within Physics
– wave and optics –> electromagnetism —> lasers?
– Classical mechanics & electromagnetism —> quantum mechanics
– thermodynamics —> statistical mechanics

quantum mechanics seems to be the level of proficiency a nanotech person wants to be at. statistical mechanics helps with the thermo vibration problem. How about optics and lasers? I see this combination being part of the Flinders' undergrad curriculum.

IV. Within Chemistry
– molecular chemistry > organic chemistry > synthetic chemistry?

1. what roles and how big of a magnitude is physical chemistry in nanotech.
2. I know molecular chemistry being mentioned many times. However, it seems to me that molecular chemistry should couple with molecular biology to understand how to back-engineering living organisms.
3. organic chemistry? I have basic knowlege about polymers and DNA, protein, and enzyme function and structure. What is it that we want to look at within organic chemistry. For example, to understand how chemical bonds happen, why proteins unhold, or to study the structure of life's informational, manufacturing systems.
4. Does analytical chemistry plays any part in this?

V. Within Biology
cell biology & molecular biology?

I am terribly lacking in biology (everything I know about it is the rudimentary high school stuff). However, it appears to me that biology with mechanosynthesis is what Drexler proposed as the direct route to nanotechnology.
But if the short term focus is to make a nano assembler. Should the study of DNA plays any part in an undergrad nanotech education? Doesn't this eliminates much of the emphasis on biology.

VI. Engineering
I understand the main idea is to practice engineering principles of systems, subsystems, designing constrains, feedbacks within natural sciences. Drexler has a predilection towards mech. eng.(no surprise, since his earlier interests were in space exploration), it makes it slightly confusing in understand how other disciplines of engineering can contribute to molecular nanotechnology.

1. I know nothing about chemical engineering.

2. Within Mech E.
From my puny knowledge of mech E., the area of robotics is what Drexler's mechanical manipulators should benefit from.

3. Within electrical E.

I am not sure if MEMs are beneficial towards nanotechnology because most of the devices created are from a "top down approach", and do not follow the surprusing physical phenomenons in nano, ie. electrostatic motors being favored.

This area is hot! From lithography to laser spectrascopy. However, how can technology from this field (with major commercial application in 2009) serves as platform or enabling technology for nano assemblers? Since everything here is still "top down" engineering.

C. circuit design
Is the current VLSI technology on the convergence with nano-computers Drexler talked about? I have the impression that Drexler wants to do everything mechanically.

I guess the main question here is how many of the proposed and pursued short term technologies today serve as enabling technology for nano? Undergraduate engineering is fairly introductory but it also limits some choices later so how many of these fields will actually lead to molecular engineering?

Any input and comment is welcome. My understanding of this field is fairly rudimentary and I'd greatly appreciate insights toward an undergrad education in nanotech.

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